Lower house heats up over gold scamHouse of Representatives meeting has been postponed till July 31 following the CPN-UML’s obstructions.
The House of Representatives meeting on Wednesday was filled with commotion over the recent seizure of over 100 kg of smuggled gold near the Kathmandu airport. Both the opposition and ruling lawmakers pointed fingers at the home minister and the finance minister and asked for an in-depth investigation to bring the crime’s mastermind to book.
The House meeting has been postponed to July 31 following obstructions from the main opposition CPN-UML. The opposition has said it will not let the House run until the Speaker orders the government to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter. The party said a high-level committee should be formed to probe the smuggling case, one of the biggest in Nepal. The party has claimed that such large-scale smuggling cannot take place without knowledge of key government officials like the home minister and the finance minister.
Speaking in the House of Representatives, UML Chief Whip Padam Giri demanded a thorough investigation. “The home minister is unfit to remain in the position,” he said. “Our question to him is: ‘What moral ground makes you fit for the position?’”
Earlier on Wednesday, the UML parliamentary party meeting had decided to seek answers from Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha over the recent gold haul.
“The Speaker should issue a ruling for the formation of a high level probe committee to investigate the gold scandal. Quintals and quintals of gold have been smuggled under the protection of the prime minister, home minister and finance minister,” said Giri.
On July 18, assisted by the Armed Police Force, the Department of Revenue Investigation (DRI), which falls under the Prime Minister’s Office, seized gold estimated to be worth over a billion rupees and arrested six individuals from Sinamangal near the Tribhuvan International Airport. Two days later, on Thursday, four persons including a Chinese national were apprehended.
The gross weight of the smuggled gold and accompanying metal implements seized last week was found to be 155 kilograms, which included motorcycle brake shoes and electric shavers. However, the actual quantity of gold has not been determined by the Department of Revenue Investigation (DRI), which had seized the smuggled haul on July 18. The department is yet to ask the Nepal Rastra Bank to find out the actual weight of the gold.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the House of Representatives, a ruling party lawmaker was also among those demanding the ministers’ resignation to pave the way for a fair investigation. Sunil Sharma, a Nepali Congress lawmaker, warned that he would stage a fast-unto-death if the mastermind of the scam is not brought to book. He also said that it would be better if the Home Minister Narayankaji Shrestha and Finance Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat stepped down on moral grounds.
“The finance minister and the home minister should resign to facilitate the gold haul probe until the owner of the gold is apprehended,” he said.
Likewise, Rastriya Prajatantra Party chair Rajendra Lingden said it is vital to get to the bottom of the scam. “The kingpin should not be protected by only detaining low profile accomplices.”
Rastriya Swatantra Party chair Rabi Lamichhane emphasised the same.
So far, the DRI has kept 16 people connected to the smuggling in its custody for investigation.
But Maoist Centre lawmaker Devendra Poudel praised the government’s actions against corruption. He termed the opposition lawmakers’ protest ‘a knee jerk reaction’ and accused them of creating obstacles instead of supporting the government in its praiseworthy works.
The UML’s repeated House obstructions have seriously hampered lawmaking. Observers term the continuous and repeated obstructions of the House as substandard parliamentary practice.
The UML had obstructed the House and asked for Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s resignation early this month over his controversial remarks that indicated that India has a major role in making and breaking governments in Nepal. However, on July 10, following an apology from the prime minister, the UML backtracked and lifted its obstruction.
Dahal acknowledged that he should not have made such remarks and clarified that he had gotten emotionally carried away.
This time, the party is sticking to its stance and will not backtrack, said Bishnu Rijal, deputy chief of the UML publicity department. “His resignation is our bottom line. It is our responsibility to put pressure on the government to take strict action against such a crime, regardless of who is involved in it,” Rijal told the Post.
Many people, however, have been praising the home minister for his actions against corruption. In such a context, observers say, going against public sentiment could backfire on the main opposition.
But UML leaders disagree. “The gold scam occurred right under the noses of several government agencies whose job was to ensure security and prevent such activities,” said Rijal. “It did not happen without the home minister’s knowledge.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Revenue Investigation on Wednesday raided the residence of businessman Rakesh Kumar Addukiya on the suspicion of his involvement in gold smuggling. A team of the department and Armed Police Force confiscated over 50 cartons from his Kamalpokhari-based house.
“At least 50 to 60 cartons have been confiscated from his residence, but we can’t give any further details immediately because the goods are yet to be checked and ascertained,” a senior APF official told the Post requesting anonymity.